By Isabela Weiss
Farmers came together and shared experiences at Tioga County’s Women in Agriculture event.
Hosted by the Tioga County Conservation District, women traveled from across the state to network with other farmers. Dairy farmer Julie Hess was a speaker at Tuesday’s event. She has not missed a single Women in Agriculture event since it started ten years ago.
“I’ve been coming to the Women in Ag meetings since they started holding it. And I’ve been bringing my daughter with me, even when she was in like fifth or sixth grade because I think it’s important for female agricultural producers to meet other female agricultural producers,” said Hess. “But they say that women in agriculture is like the largest growing sector of farmers.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 Census found that women made up 36 percent of the country’s 3.4 million agricultural producers and that newer farmers are skewing younger. The 2022 Census will come out in Feb. 2024.
Paige Murdock, a student at Wellsboro High School, went to Tuesday’s event with girls from her Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. After finishing school, Murdock plans to go into the agricultural industry. She has tended to her grandparents’ animals since she was a kid, by helping with mechanic work and building duck houses and osprey nests.
“I’m planning on going into the Air Force. And then I’m going to be a vet in a global scale, [at] a new college opening up for Ag students,” said Murdock.
Tioga County Conservation District’s Manager Erika Tomlinson holds the Women in Agriculture event each year to make women feel supported in their industry. She said the event educates, inspires, and connects women from all backgrounds.
“So, we found over the years that a lot of the events that we go to, while not necessarily male-specific, a lot of the ladies aren’t comfortable coming or asking questions. So, we found that when we hold a Women in Ag event they all like to come out and they’re willing to ask questions of each other, brainstorm different ideas,” said Tomlinson.
By making the event woman-focused, Tomlinson said it sets a different tone in the industry. Likewise, Kathyrn Yoachim spoke about the need for female farmers to support and guide each other in agriculture. A life-long farmer herself, Yoachim is the Women’s Committee Chair for Bradford-Sullivan County’s Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The PA Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm organization.
“My husband [and I] used to raise pigs down in Lehigh County. They had seven purebred breeds that they’d show throughout the whole Eastern Seaboard. So, we brought the pigs – I actually came with a dowry of purebred Chester Whites to my farm where we got married,” said Yoachim. “So, we actually got pigs started in Bradford County. When my daughter started with 4-H, there were only seven pigs in the show. Now, we’re running anywhere from 70 to a hundred in our shows in Bradford County.”
Chester Whites are local to Pennsylvania. They sprouted up in Chester County around 1815, according to Oklahoma State University.
Women shared their field stories, asked questions, and worked to solve agricultural problems. The Wellsboro High School students said that events like Tuesday’s bring their FFA group closer together. Eleventh-grader Samantha, tenth-graders Nikita, Dakota, and Alexa, and ninth-graders Bailey and Gracie said their FFA friends mean the world to them.
“We can rely on each other for literally anything. Sometimes, we have our disputes like normal families do, but apart from that, we know that we have each others’ backs,” said a FFA student.
“And we get really comfortable with each other. It’s literally like – well, us girls we call it a sisterhood kind of thing. ‘Cause we always talk, we’re always together –” said another student.
The girls said that having a strong female role model in agriculture, FFA teacher Melanie Berndtson, has helped them prepare for their futures. Many want to go into the industry as farmers, vets, florists, and as FFA teachers themselves.
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